Over the past couple of years, there has been some unsavoury goings-on in the Portsmouth & Southsea pub world. Decent establishments offering good beer seemed to have fallen foul of their own success. We all know by now the modus operandi of the infamous Enterprise Inn group: pub with an E.I. lease becomes successful, once the lease is up E.I. dramatically raise the rent, thus forcing out the landlords and replacing them with someone of their choosing.
At worst that pub then gets converted into a weird sports bar (see The Leopold) and at best they keep everything as it is; essentially jacking the identity the previous landlord works so hard to create (see LJRs). As such the opening of a new independent craft beer pub, free from E.I’s tentacles, is tremendously welcomed. Say hello to The Merchant House.
This shining beacon of craft beer hope is appropriately brought to you by the former landlords of the two aforementioned pubs above: ex-LJR boys Ben and Andy along with ex-Leopold and The Beer Musketeer himself, Stuart Ainsworth. If this pub pedigree wasn’t enough they also saw fit to bring in Oliver Alsford, ex-manager of the well-loved Wine Vaults and creator (alongside Staggeringly Good) of the truly tasty Hop Rod.
Occupying the site of the old Ice Bar on Highland Road, The Merchant House makes for an excellent addition to an area of Albert Road that is steadily becoming more and more interesting. The décor is clean, simple and stylish, which creates a focus on the high quality beer rather than any other distractions. For better or for worse no table sits more than 4 and the length of the bar is also quite bijou, but this is totally fine because the Merchant House is an exercise is quality over quantity. If you and your 6 mates want to get in quick rounds of Stella then you may want to look elsewhere.
The décor is clean, simple and stylish, which creates a focus on the high quality beer rather than any other distractions.
Continuing this theme of quality over quantity, what struck me the most is the rather keen pricing. In this day and age we have become slightly desensitised to pubs adding a healthy mark up on decent craft beer (Wine Vaults, I love you but I’m looking at you). The Merchant House manages to do away with most of this, offering top quality beers for very respectable prices; with many pints of (keg) beers such as Deya and Tiny Rebel coming in at around the £5 mark. Unbelievable Jeff! I honestly can’t think of anywhere else you could get that kind of quality to price ratio in this city. This also ties in nicely with the current push from many breweries around the UK to make the craft beer world more inclusive and affordable to all. Good beer should be accessible to everyone, an judging by how busy they have been since their soft opening, people are doing exactly that.
The promise of food at the Merchant House also seems to be on the cards, with Need Street Food (formerly Feed Hot Dog Co) being brought in to set up on the premises. It’s also really worth noting that Need Food donate a percentage of all sales to food charities that help feed people in need around the world. So basically you drink good beer and eating a decent meal all whilst doing your bit for the world, decent eh?
It’s safe to say that the Merchant House has started off with a bang, and I’m really looking forward to watching it grow and evolve as the year progresses. It is also comforting to know that everyone involved in this project has a real knowledge and appreciation of craft beer and what it should be. My only slight concern (coming back to the theme of inclusivity) is what appears to be the lack of wheelchair access; I appreciate the pub comes with a tricky layout, however it could be something worth looking into?
It is also comforting to know that everyone involved in this project has a real knowledge and appreciation of craft beer and what it should be.